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Biden Announces Choice for New CDC Director

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

President Joe Biden has announced he intends to name Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, as the next director of the CDC. Cohen will take over for Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, who will leave her post after serving as the agency’s leader for more than two years.

Cohen received praise during her tenure as the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, where she guided the state through the COVID-19 pandemic and helped expand Medicaid. Cohen also served in roles at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, where she was a key player in the development and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

President Biden called Cohen “one of the nation’s top physicians and health leaders with experience leading large and complex organizations, and a proven track record protecting Americans’ health and safety.”

“Her experience at both the federal and state level equips her to meet the challenges we face today, tomorrow, and in the years ahead,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra of Cohen.

In a joint statement, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association welcomed Cohen’s appointment, praising specifically her work in North Carolina during the pandemic.

“Experts in infectious diseases nationwide look forward to Dr. Cohen’s leadership in addressing serious public health challenges, including the growing crisis of antimicrobial resistance, increased frequency of infectious outbreaks, ending HIV as an epidemic, the need for evidence-based approaches to public health, and a strong public health workforce and infrastructure,” the groups said.

Walensky, who will step down as CDC director on June 30, said she could “think of no better hands in which to leave this agency during a critical time in its history.”

“[Cohen’s] unique experience and accomplished tenure in North Carolina, along with her other career contributions, make her perfectly suited to lead CDC as it moves forward by building on the lessons learned from COVID-19 to create an organization poised to meet public health challenges of the future,” Walensky said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Committee, released a terse statement in which he argued “we need a culture change at the CDC.”

“Mandy Cohen needs to show quickly that she is up to the task. It’s not going to happen over Zoom,” said Cassidy, MD, one of 19 physicians serving in Congress. “We need a leader, in person in Atlanta, who understands public health and is independent from political interests. CDC has to become more nimble, transparent, and collaborative to quickly respond to threats and save lives.”

When Walensky took over as CDC director in January 2021, she conceded the agency made mistakes during the COVID-19 pandemic response, then pledged to make reforms. These included sharing scientific findings and data faster; translating science into practical, easy-to-understand policy; and prioritizing public health communications.

For more on this and related subjects, be sure to read the latest issues of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.